Thursday, March 29, 2012

Save Me, Save Me, Save Me

Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11
April 1, 2012

 It was about 15 years ago, that I came down with the flu.  I had moved to Minneapolis a few months earlier and was trying to make a new start.  I was 27 and still not sure about what I wanted to do.  (Not that anyone who 27 knows what they want to do in life.  At 42, I don't know if I know any better now than I did back then, but that's another story.)

Anyway, I came down with the flu.  I was sick for a few days, but like most people, I got better from my little illness.  I went back to work and things looked like they were getting back to normal.

Except they didn't.

I got sick again, and this time things were worse than before.  What had started as the normal flu, became pneumonia.  I don't think I've ever been that sick before.  I remember my parents calling me to see how I was.  Mom asked me if she and dad should make the 12 hour journey from Michigan to see me.  At first I said no.  I mean, I was a grown man and could take care of myself. 

But I couldn't.

About 12 hours later, I had gotten worse.  The medicine I was given at emergency wasn't working.  I dialed the phone and called Mom late at night.  All I had to say was to come and within hours, they were on their way to take care of their son, who couldn't take care of himself.

As I read the gospel text for Palm Sunday, I am fixated on one word, the word "hosanna."  We only hear this word one time during the year, Palm Sunday.  It's the word we hear the crowd as Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem.  We can imagine little kids marching up and down the isles of a sanctuary shouting Hosanna over and over again.  I used to think this was just a word of praise and in some ways, it is.  But I did some checking and found out that the word means in Greek "save or pray."  So, the word the people were shouting was not as much shouts of joy as much as it was a distress call. 

I wonder about the people shouting those words.  They were looking for help from God.  The Jews were living under the rather cruel boot of Rome and wanted freedom.  So here comes this guy on a pretty humble animal (a donkey) and the people shout for help.  But the help that arrives is not that appealing.  I mean, it looked rather silly to see this grown man on a short animal that is used more for hauling things than it was for carrying people. 

Help was on way, but not in the form they expected.

Palm Sunday is normally seen as the last gasp of happy times before Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  But maybe it's not such a high point as it is reminding us that we are all looking for salvation and wholeness.  Maybe it's about hitting bottom, as those in recovery say.  Maybe we realize that we can't do it on our own and look for someone to come and save us- even if it is a fool on a donkey.

Hosanna, Hosanna. Save me, save me.  Truer words never spoken.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Being Human

Fifth Sunday of Lent
 Psalm 51
March 25, 2012

 One of my favorite television shows is the science fiction/horror series "Being Human." The series is based on a British TV show of the same name and features a vampire, werewolf and a ghost living together in an apartment in Boston. The whole premise of the show sounds like the start of a joke and at times, there is a lot of humor as the three try to live life as humans even though they are no longer human. But the main thrust of the show is how hard it is for them to be normal. Time and time again, they get thrown into situations where they are confronted with what they have become and how hard it is to live life as it was before they left the human race. This little campy television show tells a story of the supernatural, but at its core the message is very human: we are not always who we seem to be or even who we want to be. Sooner or later, we will face the reality of how far we have fallen and how hard it is to get back up.

Psalm 51 is the passage we hear every Ash Wednesday. If there ever was a downer passage, this it is. "Have mercy on me, God,according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!" writes the psalmist. This is a guy who realizes that he's been caught. He's not offering a simple or formal apology, he's being incredibly honest. He messed up. He got himself into a mess that he can't get himself out of. He asks God for help because only God can get this writer out of the pickle that he constructed.

Our culture doesn't really like to talk about sin. I'm not talking about sin in the I-ate-too-much-chocolate kind of way. I'm talking about how we are able to get ourselves into messes even when we don't mean to. We want to think that we can solve any problem that comes our way and if we can't, well, then weren't smart enough. But the psalmist knew better. All of the pretense had gone away and the writer is left with the fact that no matter what, she will make mistakes that will hurt others and hurt God. She realize that it is only God that can make her clean and can right the relationship which has been broken.

As we journey towards the cross, we are reminded that salvation comes only not through us trying to make things right, though we will try. Salvation comes in the one that washes us daily, that makes us able to praise God with a right and renewed spirit. It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can become healed and human.

 Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.